Revisions to Context and Dating of Ceremonial Bison Skull

By Nicholson, B. A.; Lints, Andrew | Plains Anthropologist, August 2010 | Go to article overview
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Revisions to Context and Dating of Ceremonial Bison Skull


Nicholson, B. A., Lints, Andrew, Plains Anthropologist


In 2004 a bison skull was encountered during excavations at the Crepeele wintering site in Southwestern Manitoba. The skull was carefully exposed and then transported on a sheet of plywood to the Brandon University Archaeology labs for further processing. An undergraduate student volunteered to remove the enclosing and enclosed soil matrix. During this process a number of small, poorly fired pot sherds were encountered. On closer examination, they were found to have been decorated with red ochre. A radiocarbon date was obtained on an adjacent bison longbone fragment, providing a date of 1620+/- 120 B. P. for the enclosing occupation. Subsequent reexamination of the wall profiles, and the problems associated with creating the ceramic vessel during the winter, suggested that the feature might be intrusive into an earlier occupation. Upon completion of a thorough examination of the skull it was decided to sacrifice a portion of the skull for an additional C14 date. This analysis produced a date of 530+/-40 B.P. clearly indicating that the skull feature was intrusive into a much earlier occupation. This result indicated, in addition, that a change in cultural assignment was required.

Keywords: ceremonial feature, revision of radiocarbon dates/cultural affiliation

A bison skull that had been altered, and used for a ceremonial purpose, was excavated at the Crepeele site in Southwestern Manitoba in 2004. Subsequently, an article was published (Nicholson and Nicholson 2007:52(203) describing this feature and its probable cultural context, including a radiocarbon date of 1620+/-120 B.P., cal. A.D. 425 (TO 11881). This C14 date was obtained from a section of long bone recovered from the level upon which the skull rested. Bone from the skull was not sacrificed for dating until a thorough examination of the skull itself was conducted. It was assumed that the bone recovered nearby from the same level as the skull would accurately reflect the age of the feature. An Honors student at Brandon University undertook this detailed analysis for his thesis topic (Lints 2009).

As a part of this detailed analysis, the materials in surrounding units were analyzed and, in addition to a variety of early Late Side-Notched points and preforms, foetal bison bone was recovered. The lithic assemblage in this block was composed of 86.7 Swan River Chert and 13.3 percent Knife River Flint. The foetal bone was a strong indicator of a winter occupation. In addition, a reexamination of photos of the wall profiles suggested that the feature was intrusive into the surrounding occupation, rather than an integral part of it. Further, the acquisition and preparation of clay for the altar/bowl when the soil would have been frozen posed a further complication, since the availability of clay would indicate a warm season occupation.

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